Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Microcosms And Looking The Other Way...

Photo from the LA Times
Junior Seau is dead.

The former great linebacker for San Diego (and others) was found dead in his home of what is being called a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest (link via PFT).  He was forty-three years old.

This is a tragedy.  Unfortunately, we are on the cusp of a large trend, especially if it comes out that Seau made reference to head injuries in his alleged suicide note.  If concussions play a role in this tragedy (and others), I think eventually the NFL will be shelling out millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to former players in damages. 

There will be no immediate impact on the NFL because of this, because people will rationalize it away and claim that this is an isolated incident.  I can guarantee one group of people that is paying attention though - parents of boys under the age of 14.  That's when you'll start seeing the impact (an unfortunate term to use, I must say).  Football will always be around, but one (and by 'one', I mean myself) has to wonder when it will be softened up to the point that it is no longer recognizable as the inherently violent sport we have come to know and love in our society - just out of fear of being sued back to the Stone Age.  Give it around twenty years, so sometime between 2030 and 2035, the NFL as we know will cease to exist.

That's my call.  I will keep it here for posterity's sake.

Now, getting back to the rationalizing and claiming of isolated incidents, there has been some remarks on Twitter (I am @The_Tonz) that have wondered why people look the other way and ignore the concussion issue in the NFL but scream bloody murder about steroid and PED (performance-enhancing drug) use in Major League Baseball.

Part of it simply the tyranny of low expectations.  We know the NFL is ultimately a Neanderthal league that plays to the lowest common denominator, and likewise we treat it as such.  Professional football is a bunch of oversize freaks who tackle each other and hit each other as hard as possible while grabbing random body parts that may or may not be allowed by the rule book.  It appeals to our most base thoughts and feelings and as much as people are divided by the use of war analogies in football, this one holds up - the first rule of war is bloodshed, and it is the same in football, although substitute injuries instead of death.  However, we shall see how long that remains purely analogous and begins to run parallel.  

Baseball is an intellectual game and is held to a much higher standard in this regard.  It was once regarded as the 'every-man' sport, although there are as many freakish athletes in MLB now as there are in other sports. However, the romanticized aspects are still heavily present in baseball and this sense of history and the legends of 'purity' (although there's no such thing) still weigh deeply in the minds of many.  

In one sense, I appreciate that higher standard.  The students that I call out for their misbehavior sometimes get upset with me, but eventually they get it when I tell them that I expect better from them.  If I truly didn't care, then I wouldn't say anything.  But I do care, and as such, I feel an obligation to hold them to some kind of standard.  Now, the so-called 'gatekeepers' of baseball are often very misguided, but I will say that their hearts are in the right place and they have good intentions.  Yes, I am well aware about roads to hell and all that crap...

It just strikes me that many NFL fans sycophants know deep down they are watching pieces of meat, and they just don't care.  And I can accept that.  However, the shrieks of outrage from the same people over these deaths and stuff like the Saints' bounties are just a little over the top and quite frankly, very very disingenuous.  People only started caring about these things when it looked like their precious NFL might be taking a few knees to the family jewels and they wondered whether it would be able to get back up.  So far it has, but those same people have cause to be concerned.  

These injuries and the aftermath (suicides or disability or lack of memory) may all seem as if they are isolated, but they are all also symptomatic of a larger systemic condition.  Times are changing, and the NFL may not be able to outrun the series of challenges.  Baseball has had a more realistic view on these things, and thus have been able to deal with them; the NFL has been blind-sided by these things and are in a much weaker position than a) people think and b) they themselves are letting on.

Twenty years from now.  Just watch.

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